The Christmas Train: Day Two

Putting aside the existential train schedule, the Canadian is one of the best train experiences I have had. The food, served on white linen tablecloths with real china, has been excellent. Today's brunch was a tasty ravioli with lobster in a cream sauce. Dinner, a well-prepared rack of lamb. Even the shower – there's one in each sleeper car – is clean and well laid out. Plush white towels along with a bar of soap and shampoo are provided for each passenger at the start of trip.

I was not sure what to expect of my upper berth bed. In the early evening, staff converted our sitting areas to their nightly upper and lower bed configurations while we sat in the Park Car at the back of the train, either reading in the dome car or being entertained with a sing-a-long in the lounge below.

Retiring quite late, I climbed into my sleeping chamber and tucked myself in. Again the quality of the amenities was top-notch: crisp white sheets, a duvet cover, two good sized pillows and enough room (just) to stretch out my 6' 1″ frame. However, all that wonderful effort to make me as comfortable as possible inside the train is largely undone by the wandering tracks below our car. As we cross the Saskatchewan prairies, I feel like I am at sea as the train and, consequently, I pitch from side-to-side for the duration of the night. It was hard to get a good night's sleep.

I am being well fed. But I have also come prepared with a box of cultural all-sorts to munch on as I sit in the dome car, watching the prairies and mountains glide past.

An audio book allows me to focus on the scenery instead of looking at book pages. I select The Edge by Dick Francis, a thriller starting in Britain but continuing on to Canada in the form of a whodunnit that sorts itself out on a cross-Canada train trip.

I want a movie to watch on my iPad after the sun sets and all is black. Silver Streak came to mind. This 1976 comedy, directed by Arthur Hiller and starring Gene Wilder and Richard Prior, takes place on an Amtrak train heading west across the United States. But I recall seeing the film when it came out and noting that the train looked suspiciously familiar. As it turns out, the film was actually shot in Canada and the train was the stainless-steel clad Canadian. My train!

Of course, I need some music. Every Canadian can probably lip sync Gordon Lightfoot’s Railway Trilogy. No sense going there. Instead, I opt for a composer I am already familiar with, courtesy of Alex Ross and his book “The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century”. The composer is Harry Partch, who definitely created outside-the-box music in the 1920’s and 30’s.

First, he decided music should consist of forty-three notes, not the twelve notes of conventional music. Why not? Then he created musical instrument that could play forty-three notes. Like the Adapted Viola and the Cloud-Chamber Bowls and the Kithara. In a final, spectacular counter-culture move, brought on by the Great Depression, he just dropped out of it all. He became a rail-riding hobo. And, out of that came The Wayward, a wild musical ride on the rails. It's already in my collection so I bring it along.

As a nod to conventional twelve-note music – and bit more relaxing than Partch – I downloaded Railroad Rhythms: Classical Music About Trains by the South West German Radio Kaiserslautern Orchestra. Ear candy for a rain ride.

But it's time to get back to the Canadian. We've passed through the tunnel that deposits us in Jasper National Park and the the monumental Rockies. The skies have cleared and a recent snowfall has frosted the pines. It is Canada's non-denominational Christmas crèche on wheels. After a brief stop in Jasper townsite, we're off again. Once again Via Rail ups the ante for world-class rail service with complementary appetizers and a plentiful pouring of sparkling wine.

Cheers to an authentic Canadian adventure!




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